Category Archives: Lessons

Finally Figuring It Out

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It took the better part of the year, but I think I have finally figured out my Art 2: Painting/Drawing class.  Last year I ran art 2 the same way I did my Art 1.  All of us were new to TAB, so, I felt the need to make art 2 different wasn’t necessary.  But, this year, since I had some kids from Art 1 in my Art 2, I had to change it up.  I started out with an altered books unit I had done for many years.  It is basically a way to get students exploring using media in different ways.  However, the kids were not exploring and were not really understanding the purpose of the book, but they did them anyway.  In my gut, the class just felt off.  I told the students this, and they kind of looked at me funny, but were willing to just go with it.

After about half-way through the second marking period (we run classes for a full year, broken up into 2 semesters consisting of 3 6-week (mostly) marking periods) the class and I “started over”.  I stopped with the altered books and put them into the storage closet. We went back to what I knew worked–themes.  Students were coming up with some great ideas.   I thought things were finally on-track until I was talking to a student during our second theme and asked him how he was thinking of proceeding with his idea.  I asked about media and paper type.  He looked at me like I had 5 heads.  Then I took a look around the room, and I began to think the class looked like it was a beginning class, not a class that had gone through a year of high school art already.  Yes the students had good ideas, but the artistic process stopped there. There was no skill development, there was no risk taking, no reflection, no connections.

At this point, what does any good art teacher do?  Do they just keep on keeping on?  Or do they reflect on what is going on and change things to help better the learning and understanding?  I chose the later.  We would “start over” just one more time.

By this point, it was the end of the first semester.  This gave me the much needed time to really reflect on what my students needed.  It was at this point I was going to try a unit style that Ian Sands developed.  It involves 3 parts:  digging deeper, challenge, and create.  (You can find examples of his units here.)  I borrowed his unit, Artists Steal.  The students were successful.  I mean, there was still work to be done, but for the most part, the transition was a smart one.  I could see them beginning to have a deeper understanding of things artists do and how they, artists, create their artwork.  Many of the kids used what they created in the unit challenge for their artwork.  I was impressed by the level of understanding of appropriation.

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Sponge Bob

Next it was time to create my own unit.  I followed the “formula” for the unit and I decided that our next unit would be “Artists Tell Stories”.  I came up with a digging deeper section, a challenge and a create section.  With this unit, I saw several of my students really looking at artwork and finding out the story behind it or reading the story it was telling.  They were also providing an excellent reflection on the video they chose to watch.  Link  Link  Link

They say third times a charm, and they were right.  I am glad that I went with my gut and stopped and started things over twice with my students.  I can really see the growth taking place now and I can see their work having deeper thought and deeper meaning.  Is this by any means perfect?  Of course not.  It is a work in progress.  They know that.  If it were, we would have done our current unit (Artists Represent), and the next two (Artists Abstract and Artists Are Non-Representational) first.  But, hindsight and all.

I’ve got a couple of things to change on the structure of the units…like removing the option to create a pinboard of artwork.  I found this isn’t lending itself to any deeper understanding.  And, I need to work in more skills bootcamps, but that will come.  Right now, as much as I want this particular group of students to explore different ways of art making, all but 1 or 2 don’t really want to, I think right now that momentum they’ve got going with exploring things artists do is more important than interrupting them to explore painting or printmaking or something like that.  It’s all about choices and finding the right balance in the class.  And with one and a half marking periods left, I feel I have made the right decision for both them and myself…..but mostly them.

I always say that my TAB classroom is a living entity that ebbs and flows with the needs of the students.  My art 2 class this year proves that.  If you are feeling a class is off, or they need something they aren’t getting at the moment, stop and reset.  It is okay.  It can only help.  Be transparent about what you are doing; your students will understand. Mine did. And remember, it’s all for them.

Say Yes to Drawing Tests in Art!

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A concern that I have heard about having a choice-based or TAB art studio is that students don’t ever work on skills–including observational drawing skills.  I would like to address this particular concern.  My students work on observational skills…every 2 weeks.  How do they do this you might ask?  Well, let me tell you…with a drawing test.

Several years ago I went the TAEA (TX Art Ed Assoc) State conference somewhere and I attended a session on creating workbooks.  In that session, the two teachers mentioned drawing tests. I was intrigued so I asked for more information.  They gave me the run down and I have been implementing them in my classes ever since.

I thought the drawing test was such a great way to have the students spend a few moments of uninterrupted time to concentrate on observational drawing.  And, now that I am in a TAB room, I find this time even more beneficial.

Here is the low-down:

MATERIALS:

  • many class sets of objects.  I went to the dollar store and bought a ton of crap over the year that would be good for drawing–spoons, forks, ramekins, ornaments, salt shakers, etc.  For me a class set is 24.  I also bought a bunch of cheap bins from the dollar store to hold each set.  It is an investment, but worth it.  If you can find sets of things…like the forks came in groups of 3, ornaments come in packs of 12. Each box is labeled so it is easy to find and pull out.
  • squares of lightweight drawing paper. I have a ton of 60# white drawing paper.  I cut the paper down to 5.5-inch squares.  I cut a bunch at a time…enough to get me through a few weeks of testing for 4 classes.  I keep it all in a bin.
  • white poster board or railroad board. This is used to mount the tests for the book at the end
  • silver rings. I use the binding rings.  This holds the books together and makes it easy for the students to flip through.
  • white labels. to be used to label the pages of the book
  • double-sided tape. to attach drawing tests to the railroad board
  • timer. the tests are timed

HOW TO:

  • Each student gets a piece of paper and the week’s object.
  • We start off with easy things like Legos and work towards more complicated things.
  • Each test is timed. Art 1 starts with 5 minutes and works up to about 10 minutes at the end of the year. Art 2 starts at about 7 minutes and work up until 13 minutes.
  • Every week I tell the students things I want them to concentrate on when they are drawing.  I usually start with 3 things and as we move along, the easier things get removed and harder things to observe and concentrate on get put in.
    • shape
    • line quality
    • use of 3-d
    • surface quality
    • no lines
    • shading/shadow
  • There is no talking during the test
  • They must draw the entire time.  This means they either need to draw again or try to improve what they have done.
  • I also don’t let them listen to music.
  • I type up a sheet and post it on the screen during the test.  The sheet has the date, the drawing time, and what I am looking for.  Also, the reminders about drawing the whole time and talking are at the bottom.  I save all these because they give me the information for the labels later on.

Before we start, I give reminders and tips to drawing from life and observing things like shadows and planes.  I talk about making connections to help with proportion.  I point out things they should notice…like the salt shaker top is not as wide as the glass part.  During the test, in a quiet voice, I give reminders about how to observe and things to notice.

When time is up, I have the kids sign their work.  The first test they write their names on the back for my reference. The second time we talk about signatures and how artists sign their work.–I show some famous examples like Picasso, Monet, Durer, and myself.  After this, they then can write their name on the back and/or sign the front.

From there I take up the tests, grade them, and put them away for safe keeping.  Sometimes the kids ask about them, but mostly they kind of forget about the tests themselves.  I don’t hide them and if they want to see them, I let them see them. What do I do with them?  This is where a good aide comes in.  Each test gets mounted on a 6X9 piece of railroad board.  Each board gets a label with the date, the test time, and what was the concentration areas.  At the end of the year, each board gets hole-punched twice and put on rings.  I make a cover page for each book and hand them back the last day of classes (well most of them anyway.)

The students like to look through and see how far they came.  They remember which items were hard, why things were hard, which they hated, which were easy, and which they didn’t try on.  Many cherish the book for years to come.  Several years ago, Ethen left his book behind.  I kept it because it was good, Ethen was one of my favorites (don’t tell nobody), and I could use it to remember what objects I used when, etc.  This year Ethen was a senior and he saw I still had the book.  He wanted it back because he didn’t have any of his drawings.  I was sad, but silently happy that his face lit up when he looked through it and remembered our awesome class.

Anyway, this past year I stumbled upon an article that talked about some of the things my students question me about–the main one is the silence/no music thing.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

1. What if I told you, you talk too much?

Talking and drawing don’t mix.
The main problems associated with drawing is when you talk you engage your logical, language dominated left side of the brain. This side of your brain is keen on knowing an objects name, labelling it, and organising it.
Often when learning to draw, you need to temporarily hold off judgment and try not to second guess what you think the object should look like, rather than what the object actually looks like.
When you are trying to learn to draw something realistically, you have to engage your right hand side of the brain, which is keener on images and spatial perception.
It’s very hard to do both at the same time.

Why?

Because it causes mind freeze.
Have you ever been in a creative zone of absorption, a state where time travels quickly and you are in what psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’.

How Does It Feel to Be in Flow?

  1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that skills are adequate to the task.
  5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, our sin to pass by in minutes.
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

Flow is the mental state when you are fully immersed in an activity, a feeling of full involvement and energy.
You can get to this stage of involvement whilst drawing… until you get interrupted.
The combination of left and right battling against each other makes trying to draw tricky.
You can learn to talk and draw at the same time but it takes practice.
It all starts by understanding how your mind works, and how you can be subconsciously sabotaging your best efforts.

This excerpt is from an article by Will Kemp called “The 3 reasons why you can’t draw, (and what to do about it)”.  You can find the remainder of the article here.

I posted the excerpt on the students’ art blog.  Next year I plan on having them read the article as part of class, instead of just stumbling upon it.

Like I said, I think having these “tests” are important.  I think most kids think they can’t draw and this helps to show them otherwise.  Furthermore, it is good to have a time set aside for the students to work on these exercises.  Using the word “test” is mean, but I think it somehow gives the exercise a sense of importance in their minds.

Here are some examples from this past year.  It is a mix of art 1, art 2, and life skill students.

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A New Theme Brings Back Some Life

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Over the past week my students and I have waded through learning about how to draw and shade facial features.  All of this was leading up to the intro of our newest theme: the self portrait.

It’s a scary theme for many high schoolers. Many surprised themselves with how well they could draw lips, noses, and eyes.  But I could tell they were still dreading the theme.

I then showed them the pinterest inspiration board full of famous self portraits AND a myriad of non-traditional self portraits.  I could see the tension and apprehension melting away.  I could see the light in their eyes that had been missing these past 2 months.  I could feel the excitement in me return.

That same day, a student had talked to me about a controversial piece she wants to do. She wants to “talk” about the darkness she had inside and the scars that haven’t healed. Since I know she is already getting help, I gave her the go ahead. Today she made a cast of her hand and part of her arm. It has a well thought out diagonal opening on the arm where I imagine you will be able to see the dark and the scars.  I know to some that this may seem like a cry for help. I see it as a way to help her heal. I feel it could possibly help others too.

I didn’t intend for this post to take this turn, but as I was writing, I was thinking of her and a peer casting her arm today. I thought more information was needed. I admire her courage to take this theme and really make it her own and something that has meaning to her.

Let There Be Light?

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Light:    

  1. the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible.  
  2. understanding of a problem or mystery; enlightenment.
  3. (of a color) pale.
  4. of little weight; easy to lift.
  5. gentle or delicate.
  6. (of entertainment) requiring little mental effort; not profound or serious.
  7. (of persona) good; vs. evil (dark)

This was our theme.  Seems like there could be a myriad of possibilities.  I thought it would be “easier” that our previous theme of “Sound“.  Unfortunately, it was much harder than I thought it would be for my students.

I don’t know if it was the theme or if it is just that time of year.  (To be honest, I have hit that proverbial wall that often shows it face in February as we are just on the cusp of beginning the last 2 marking periods of the school year.  But, I digress.)  While a few knocked it out of the park and had some deep thinking and meaning to their artwork, many just went through the motions.

Not everything that came out of this unit was bad.  It helped me to realize some things about my students, myself, and the atmosphere in the room.  My students need a break from computers.  Enter our next theme of surrealism where they will rely on their minds for ideas.  I need a break.  I know we just returned to school, but I feel like I am about to start up this huge mountain of responsibilities and I won’t get to the top until mid-April.  And, finally, my room has become too comfortable.  It’s a double-edged sword really. It’s what I wanted.  I wanted my students to want to be here.  I wanted my students to want to make art.  I wanted my room to be a living thing.  And it is all of these and it is not all these things.  I don’t know how to explain it.  I like the chaos of art making and several of my classes deliver.  But what I don’t like is just general chaos–which other classes are becoming.

So, see, this unit has brought reflection and thought for me.  This is a good thing.

Here are a few more good things that were brought about by this unit.

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Picturing Sound

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Sound.  Visualize it in your mind’s eye.  It’s not easy is it?  Well, that’s what my art 1 students were tasked with.  They were asked to take something that is not concrete and turn it into something that is.  And, they did just that.  They picked images that remind you of certain sounds…tires screeching, wind chimes in the wind, the quietness of peace, speakers booming, the vibration of bass, the crack of a baseball bat or thunder.

In this unit I introduced block and collograph printing.  Of course, tons of kids wanted to try block prints. I think they did well for their first try.  It was difficult to get them to understand placement of the print on the paper, but luckily I had a template they could use to help them get it right.

I am so pleased with their solutions.  There is so much thought put into these works.  Check out their artist statements telling of their intent and processes.  This is definitely a theme I will use again.

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A Great TASK to Help Start the New Year

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A Great TASK to Help Start the New Year

Today was the start of a new semester at school.  I thought we needed to start off with a great activity–one that would shake off the slumber of winter break and ring in creativity and imagination for a new year.  And what better way to do so than have a day-long TASK party.

What is a TASK party you ask?

You can also find a previous post on TASK here.

I pulled out a bunch of supplies I had in my storage room:  yarn, egg cartons, craft items, fabric, 12″ dowels, wooden hearts and starts, buttons.  I plugged in all the hot glue guns we had.  I grabbed the large rolls of colored paper from the faculty lounge.  And, I started with a container full of tasks.

This party was to last all day.  I have 7 classes.  Once I started the party, I only broke for lunch, which consisted of writing more tasks.  This was the only place the students faltered…well, and when it came to blindly picking a task.  (Many wanted to pick and choose their task.  It was hard to stop them.)

It really was a fun day.  A few kids fought it at first, but ended up having a good time.  I think they need that time to play.  High school kids don’t often get that anymore.  And bonus, no one was on their computer today.  I wish I knew how many tasks were completed today…or at least attempted.   It would be fun to figure it out.  Perhaps next time.

By the end of the day, my feet were killing me and I was tired as all hell.  But, I had a counter full of artifacts.  I had a hopscotch board on my floor, and I had 2 body outlines–one in dry erase marker and one in tape.  (Just an FYI–certain dry erase markers don’t come off the floor so easily.)  I had a roll full of photos of the students making and laughing and creating and smiling.  I had a heart full of memories. And, I think it set the tone that creativity is welcome here–and encouraged.

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Ceramic Spheres

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My beginning ceramics students are slowly learning the basics of hand-building in hopes that soon I can let them enter a more choice-based atmosphere.  One of the basics we learned was the pinchpot.  In Art 1, my students create pinchpot monsters.  I wanted to do more than that in beginning ceramics class.  I also wanted them to continue to practice carving, which we had done in the previous unit, carved slabs.

Students created 2 pinchpots and scored/slipped them together to form a sphere-like shape.  After letting it firm up some, they were to carve, incise, and/or cut into their sphere.

Some kids spent a lot of time figuring out their designs.  Other just went for it.  Two kids added to their sphere.  But, they all learned a lot about thinking in the round and time spent in the air.  A couple commented that their carving got better, even though it was much harder to carve a round surface than it was the flat surface.

The last thing we did was glaze them.  For this I had them choose from the test tiles they had created.  They could choose from their samples or from any sample from the other students.  Luckily they all took good notes.

Here are some of the results.

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Clay Slab Tiles

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Beginning ceramic students learned all about rolling out slabs when making their clay boxes.  So, I thought I would use the slab to let them experiment carving.  They all rolled out and cut 6″X6″ tiles.  From there they were given the “rules”.  They needed to have a minimum of 4 levels.  How that was achieved was up to them.  They were shown this Pinterest board for some examples.  They had to have a frame…again, they decided what constituted a frame.  And, one element had to break said frame.

And go.  As usual, I have a few kids that can just jump in and go for it…and get great results.  Others carefully planned and revised their designs.  I had one student wind up at our alternative center and had to work on her tile without help from me or others…she did a fabulous job.

Once they were finished, I had decided this was a great project to show them a non-glaze surface technique.  I had seen pieces done on my Facebook Art Teachers group and thought the oil pastel tempera resist would be perfect for them.  First they color the tiles with oil pastels.  I tell them to color darkly, but not to color fully.  Where ever there were holidays, the tempera would soak into the ceramic. Next they covered the entire piece with tempera.  On my example I had watered it down.  I didn’t have them do that, and they turned out just fine.  After that they held the tiles under a running stream from the faucet.  I reminded them just to let the water wash over it and not to scrub.  The water would rinse away all the tempera where they had colored with the oil pastels.  Many were nervous and seemed as if they didn’t believe me.  I love their faces when they finally saw the amazing result.  As a last step, I had them spray with a spray gloss to seal the piece.

They were super happy with their tiles.  I don’t think they ever would have though to do anything like this.  A few of them are in painting and drawing with the other art teacher and the connected what we did with the resist to a similar project they did on paper with tempera and ink.  Love when they can do that.

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Ceramic Slab Boxes

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Our first big unit in beginning ceramics class was to build a slab box that had texture, a lid, a handle, and a few added embellishments.  A fellow ceramics teacher, Jen,  was kind enough to share her lesson.  I tried it out for the first time last year.  I thought the kids did well, so I did it again this year.  I think it is a good intro to the hand-building technique of the slab.  Also, it brought in texture, a favorite aspect of mine, by use of texture rollers, adding a usable handle, and adding embellishments.

The students learned a lot about slabs.  The state of leatherhard is one they all know now.  Some really did understand the state, while other just never got there and didn’t heed advice to cover the slabs they weren’t working on at the moment, thus letting things dry out too much to use.  A couple kids did find out that you can mist way too much.

But, I did hear good conversation about using the stilts (in our case made of paint stirrers) to help keep slabs even, how much pressure to use when using texture rollers, and reminders to put in reinforcing coils.

I am pleased with the results of the boxes, even though more than one handle was either not scored/slipped right or was too fragile and broke off–unfortunately, usually by me.

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For the surface treatment, I wanted them to learn a technique that would enhance the texture created by the texture rollers.  I asked them to choose 2 glaze colors–a dark and a light.  They learned how to pour in a glaze and roll it around to cover the interior of the box.  They did this with the dark.  After that, they used the dark to brush into the texture.  Once dry, they washed off the excess leaving the color in the recesses (and as a slight stain on the flat surfaces.)  Then they brushed on the lighter color to the outside of the box, going over everything–including the dark in the texture.  The theory is that the dark will show through the light, creating an interesting surface with a bit of depth.

Not everyone followed instructions, and that is okay.  But, the ones that did created some wonderful looking boxes.

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Test Tiles Are Where It’s At

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The last 2 weeks of the marking period are always hard to come up with something meaningful to do–especially in a ceramics class.  It is not enough time to start a new project.  Luckily though, we have been working so hard on building and learning basic building techniques that we can take a break from building and focus on surface treatments.

One thing we are focusing on is creating test tiles.  Beginning students each cut 12 test tiles.  The took 6 of the tiles and left them smooth.  The other 6 were imprinted with a texture stamp.  They labeled one set 1-6A and 1-6B.

Now that they are bisque fired, they are trying different glaze combos.  They are laying 1-3 glazes on each tile.  And, what they do to 1A, they do to 1B so after glaze firing they can see how the texture could possibly effect the glazes and how it breaks, if it breaks at all.

And, of course, they are taking notes on what colors they use and how they apply the glaze.  They are taking notes not only for themselves, but for their peers as well.  The plan with these test tiles is to have the class share tiles so they have many choices.  Maybe someone else created something awesome.  They will glaze their spheres from one of the group of test tiles.

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